England Emigration and Immigration

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Emigration records are records of people leaving England. Immigration records are records of people entering England. Passenger lists, permissions to emigrate, records of passports issued, lists of transported prisoners, or registers of assistance to emigrate often contain genealogical information. These records may contain the name, age, occupation, destination, place of origin or birthplace, ship, and date of arrival. Names of fellow passengers may help construct family groups or provide hints on place of origin or destination.

Beginning in 1606 people emigrated from England to countries such as the United States, India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. Emigration increased after 1815 when it became a means of poor relief. Emigration also increased during gold rushes in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. Emigration from England peaked in the 1880s.

Records were not required for free emigrants to the United States until 1776; Canada before 1865; or Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa until the 20th century.

People immigrating to England generally came from continental Europe. Movements within the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands) and to England’s colonies required no documents.

To search emigration records effectively, you should know the approximate date of emigration, the name of the ship, the type of or reason for emigration, or the emigrant’s previous residence in England. If you know the ship’s name, Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping may provide additional details on the ship itself, including ports of embarkation and arrival.

Finding the Emigrant’s Place of Origin

Once you have traced your family back to an English emigrant, you must determine the parish where he or she lived. If the individual immigrated after 1 July 1837, you may find the place of origin by using the general indexes to births, marriages, and deaths. (See the "Civil Registration".) There is no complete nationwide index to pre-1837 birth, marriage, or death records. The following web sites hold the largest amount of pre-1837 data: FamilySearch.org's with about 150 million entries, findmypast, with at least 80 million, in its Church records databases, FreeReg, with about 12 million, and new.FamilySearch has old IGI (International Genealogical Index) data for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or otherwise available to view with asistance at FHCs (Family History Centres worldwide--see FamilySearch.org) for the general public.  (See England Genealogy), (see the "Indexes to Marriages" in England Church Records) are partial national indexes that you can try before searching emigration records.

There are several sources that may reveal where your ancestor came from. You may learn your ancestor’s place of origin by talking to older family members. Other relatives may have documents naming the parish, city, or county, such as:

  • Sardinian ALLAN LINE c1890.jpg
    Birth, marriage, or death certificates
  • Obituaries
  • Journals
  • Photographs
  • Letters
  • Family Bibles
  • Church certificates/records
  • Naturalization applications and petitions
  • Passenger lists
  • Newspaper announcements or articles
  • Passports
  • Family heirlooms

Some of these documents may also be found in libraries.

Sometimes it is possible to guess where an immigrant originated through surname distribution maps.

For further information about finding the origins of immigrant ancestors, see United States Emigration and Immigration

Emigration from England

There was no systematic, official method of emigrating from England. The following types of emigrants account for most persons who left England:

Free emigrants. Beginning in 1606 emigrants left England to promote trade or set up military outposts and way stations for merchant ships. Later free emigrants sought opportunities in a new land or fled poverty or oppression in England.

Assisted emigrants. From 1815 to 1900, qualified emigrants received passage money or land grants in the destination country as an alternative to receiving poor relief.

Transported prisoners. From 1611 to 1870, more than 200,000 criminals were conditionally pardoned, exiled, and transported to penal colonies. Before 1775, more than 50,000 prisoners were sent to America—primarily to Virginia and Maryland. From 1788 to 1869, more than 160,000 prisoners were sent to Australia.

Military personnel. Upon discharge, soldiers serving overseas were offered land or other inducements to settle in the colony where they were serving. This was common practice in Australia from 1791, Canada from 1815, and New Zealand from 1844.

Latter-day Saints. About 1840, converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emigrated to the United States. Most settled in Utah. For further information, see Utah.

Records of English Immigrants in Their Destination Countries

British Ships at Deptford. Site of the first Royal Dockyard.jpg

Usually you will find the best information about your immigrant ancestor in the country he or she immigrated to. You may find the name, place of origin, occupation, and age of the immigrant. Knowing an approximate date and port of arrival or ship name will probably help you search immigration records.

Naturalization records in the destination country may also be an excellent source for determining your ancestor’s place of origin. See the "Naturalization and Citizenship" section of the destination country. Most immigration records at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


United States. Immigrant lists, or ships’ passenger lists, are the main source of information on those arriving in the United States. More than 1,000 lists are indexed in an ongoing series by:

Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1981–. (Family History Library book 973 W32p. BYU Family History Library Book CS 68 .P36 1981 vol.1, also available as an online resource updated in 1999 in the Harold B Lee Library.)

A bibliography of over 2,500 published lists is:

Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigrations Lists Bibliography, 1538–1900. Second Edition. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1988. (Family History Library book 973 W33p 1988.)

The library has post-1820 passenger lists for most U.S. ports. Most are indexed. For further information, see the United States Emigration and Immigration.

India. Many British subjects went to East India to trade or settle. Until 1834, no British subject could go to India without permission from the East India Company. The applications for consent as well as other records dealing with immigration are at the British Library Oriental and India Office Collections, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB England.

Canada. From 1815 to 1850 Canada was the primary destination of English emigrants. Over 650,000 there. Military settlers and Loyalists (Americans loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution) account for nearly 200,000 English settlers in Canada. Before 1900 most immigrants arrived in Quebec City or Halifax.

Passenger lists into Canada are rare before 1865. Microfilm copies of lists from 1865 to 1900 are at the Family History Library. See Canada Emigration and Immigration for further information.

Australia. Australia was founded as an English penal colony in 1788. Immigration records vary by state in content and coverage. Some list the immigrant’s birthplace, residence in England, and education; his or her mother’s maiden name and parents’ names; and his or her father’s name, occupation, and residence. Some records are indexed. You might find the ship and arrival date in death certificates or published sources. Copies of most pre-1900 records are at the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



South Africa. The British took South Africa from the Dutch in 1795. The English settled in South Africa mostly after 1820 when a group of 3,675 British subjects settled in eastern Cape Province in that year. These settlers are well documented. A memorial museum that has genealogies of their descendants is located at:

Albany Museum
Somerset Street
Grahamstown 6140
South Africa
Web site: http://www.am.org.za/  

Here are some web sites of note, for searching for British emigrants into South Africa:

  • SouthAfricanSettlers.com:  The South African Settlers web site provides an excellent online database (free) search for immigrants who settled in South Africa from the British Isles during especially the 19th century, particularly those who went in 1820, but also many who arrived before and after that year. Information for this database has been drawn from a variety of outstanding records and compiled sources including Settler files at the Albany Museum and Cory Library in Grahamstown, South Africa (see above); South African Death Notices (DN); Colonial Office papers (CO); and the International Genealogical Index (IGI, now at new.FamilySearch.org)
  • 1820Settlers:  this web site is a compilation of user-contributed data (free) with many families mentioned
  • GenealogyWorld has also data online for the 1820 settlers to South Africa

A list of arriving passengers was usually published in the government gazette for the province of arrival. Before 1836 only Cape Province had white settlements. Microfilm copies of many immigration records are available at the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



New Zealand. The English began colonizing New Zealand in 1840. Immigration records usually give settlement details and the wife’s and children’s names and ages. Most immigrants received assistance from either the New Zealand Company or from a government or church association formed to encourage immigration. Microfilm copies of many of these records are at the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



English Records of Emigration

SS Empress of Britain pre-1924.jpg

To search emigration records effectively, you should know the approximate date of emigration, the name of the ship, the type of or reason for emigration, or the emigrant’s previous residence in England. If you know the ship’s name, the following work may provide additional details on the ship, including ports of embarkation and arrival:

Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. Fiche edition. LaCrosse, Wisconsin: Brookhaven Press, 1981. (FHL fiche 6024581–6025295; does not circulate to Family History Centers.)

Passenger Lists. Port records listing the names of departing or arriving passengers are called passenger lists. Passenger departure lists are rare before 1890. After 1890 they are arranged chronologically by port of departure. These lists usually give the emigrant’s name, age, occupation, address, and sometimes destination and are kept at The National Archives in London. An index to the records, 1890-1960, is now online on findmypast. The search is free, but a small fee is charged to see a transcription or the digital image of the original record.

Passport Applications: Passports were not mandatory for British travelers until 1914, but some passports or certificates were issued before that year. An index to the names of passport applicants for some earlier years is online.

United Kingdom War Brides Passenger Lists, 1946-1947.

Thousands of women married soldiers during World War II. When husbands returned to their own countries, many wives were left behind to wait to join them. An Internet index gives you a surname, first name and destination of war brides

To Use This Site:

  1. Click Search Indexeson the left side of the screen.
  2. Click I’m ready to search now.
  3. Type the forename (given name) and surname
  4. Click Submit

The index is continuously updated, adding more years and names. It's free to search. A fee is charged for a typewritten extract from the passenger list.

Assisted Emigrants Registers. Persons who applied for assistance to emigrate were recorded in "assisted emigrants registers," which often contain name, age, occupation, residence, destination, name of sponsor, address of relative, and size of family. Those available at the Family History Library appear in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:




Probate Records. Probate records may mention emigrant relatives. Probates of persons dying overseas who owned property in England should have been proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (until 1858) or at the Principal Probate Registry (after 1857).

The following work lists some American wills proved in England:

Coldham, Peter W. American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610–1857. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1989. (FHL book 942 P27c. BYU Family History Library book CS 68 .C517 1989.)

For more information see "Probate Records".

Other Records. The Public Record Office has many other records that refer to emigrants. Of particular importance are the "poor law union" papers, which among many other things include some records of poor- relief emigration from 1834 to 1900. These records are at the Public Record Office, class MH 12. For information on other emigration records at the Public Record Office, use the Kew Lists. (See the "Archives and Libraries".

There are other lists of emigrants by authors such as Peter W. Coldham, Michael Tepper, and P. William Filby.

Immigration to England

Until after the Second World War, most people immigrating to England came primarily from continental Europe. Specific immigrant groups include refugees from wars (such as the French Revolution) or from religious persecution (such as Huguenots and Jews). No regular series of arrival records exists before 1836. The few that exist are not indexed. If your ancestor immigrated to England before 1836, search naturalization and denization records. (See "Naturalization and Citizenship". Beginning in 1836 certificates exist for aliens. These are arranged by port, and give the individual’s name, nationality, profession, date arrived, country last visited, and signature.

Starting in 1878 there are lists of incoming passengers which give the passenger’s name, birthplace, last residence, and sometimes an address of a relative in the country of origin. However, passengers from Europe or the Mediterranean did not have to be listed. All of these immigration records are at the National Archives in London.

In 1948 the MV Empire Windrush arrived in London bringing the first large group of West Indian immigrants to the UK.

  • Migration Histories (Looks at experiences from Carribeean, Irish, Jewish and South Asian into England

Immigration records at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Because few English immigration sources exist, you may need to search the emigration records of the country your ancestor moved from.

Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible (2008) identifies references to black people who settled in England.

Outward Passenger Lists from Britain On-line.  www.ancestorsonboard.com/ $